Americans flocked to parades, packed up football stadiums and gathered more freely for family gatherings on Thursday, thankful to re-celebrate Thanksgiving Day traditions after the pandemic kept many at home last year.
The holiday dates back to the early 1600s when pilgrims from Europe and Native Americans gathered to share the fall bounty — a celebration of goodwill before the genocide to come. Today, the approach of the long holiday weekend typically ignites a travel frenzy as scattered families gather for holiday meals.
With the number of deaths and infections from COVID-19 soaring last year, many people were sharing turkey dinners via Zoom. With vaccines making the pandemic more manageable, an estimated 53.4 million people would travel for Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association, 13 percent more than in 2020.
Air traffic recovered strongly, with US officers screening 2.31 million people at travel checkpoints on Wednesday, representing 88 percent of the volume screened on the same day in 2019. It was the highest checkpoint volume since the pandemic low of 87,534 on April 13. 2020, Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lisa Farbstein wrote on Twitter.
President Joe Biden declared the country “back” and called NBC television coverage of the 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
‘My message is that you will be back after two years. America is back,” Biden said before visiting a coastguard station in Nantucket, Massachusetts, to thank members of the military who were stationed around the world. “There is nothing we cannot overcome.”
Despite this, COVID-19 still infects 95,000 people a day. More than 780,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US, according to a Reuters tally of official data. But deaths are now measured in hundreds a day instead of thousands.
Midnight after Thanksgiving also marks the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season and provides a snapshot of the state of the US economy.
Retailers started promoting online holiday deals as early as September this year, as the ongoing supply chain lockdown threatened to delay imported goods. But bargains are modest, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index.
An opportunity to count your blessings — usually over a turkey dinner with mountains of side dishes and desserts — Thanksgiving also brings a flood of donations to the poor and hungry.
Like many organizations, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank offered an annual free meal this year so anyone in need of a free meal kit for the holiday can pick up a free meal kit.
Food bank marketing manager Victoria Lasavath said the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in Los Angeles County. The organization and its partners now serve 900,000 people a day, tripling the number before COVID-19, she said.
Thanksgiving “can typically be a very joyous time of year for all of us. For our food-insecure neighbors, however, it can bring a different kind of insecurity,” Lasavath said.
With hospital intensive care units no longer overcrowded, restrictions on social gatherings have been eased. Fans took to Detroit’s Ford Field stadium for the first of three National Football League games on Thursday, restoring a spectacle that is part of the Thanksgiving tradition. Last year there were no fans in the stands.
Likewise, spectators returned to New York’s Thanksgiving Day Parade after last year’s parade was downsized and closed to the public.
The parade featured giant helium balloons featuring characters such as Grogu, otherwise known as Baby Yoda from the Star Wars spin-off series The Mandalorian, and Ada, the young scientist from the Netflix series Ada Twist, Scientist.